Spiritual Combat Revisited
I have been reading the book with the title above on and off for a couple of month. Last night I finished a section that prompted some fairly serious thought.
from Spiritual Combat Revisited Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
The good in us is God's and the evil in us is our own. However much this may go against contemporary modes of thought, this unpleasant truth is the lesson of Scripture and the teaching of the Church. But it is not just contemporary modes of thought that find the truth repellent--it is we ourselves. Somewhere, buried not all that deep in ourselves, is a conviction that we are not really all that bad. Here we have to learn to pray for the humility to see and accept this fundamental lesson of the Gospel about the human condition. (p. 56)
I wonder about this--not about the truth of it, but more the nuanced subtleties of it. Stated this boldly it begins to sound a bit Calvinist. One would expect the next words to be "utter depravity." But scripture and the Church both teach that mankind was created good as part of a good creation; this would seem to imply that there is something good. Now, as Mr. Robinson points out, that good comes from God, and yet we experience it and are part of it and are inseparable from it. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that we tend to embrace the good as our own doing. But it is not, it is part of our being, but not something we have caused to be. Whereas everything that God made is beautiful and good; and yet, we see the tracery of destruction, unhappiness, and corruption throughout the human world. Why is this? Because we are, in fact responsible for all of that. Everything that is ugly, unwieldy and depraved is of human origin--perhaps promoted and encouraged by the Evil One, but willingly undertaken by people themselves.
Do we accept that all good is from God. Intellectually, every Christian acknowledges the truth encompassed in this passage; however, equally our emotional aspects resist it because it seem a vast abyss wherein we will become utterly lost. If we accept that we are capable only of evil (St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the only act a person is capable of without the assistance of grace is the rejection of God's will) then we might begin to think of ourselves in that fashion.
And yet, we are loved by God and we are loved for ourselves--corrupt, imperfect, and unloving. His Love makes us worthy of love. If we lean on that and rely upon His goodness to support us we will begin to understand to truth of the passage above without sinking into a mire of self-revulsion and hatred--hardly conducive to active Christian ministry and life.
So we must carefully tread the brink of an abyss--total self-involvement and self-assurance and total self revulsion. With the truths of the scripture and the teachings of the Church these two resolve quite readily and we needn't think about the act.
However, we do need to adjust ourselves to the fact that we are in need of transformation, and everything that is foul around us, is more than likely contributed to by us. Even if not, it is the product of human beings and not of God. We need to be very careful about taking credit for all the good that flows from our Gracious Lord and part of our examen should be to tease out those places where we continue to give ourselves credit for what we do not do ourselves.